‘m a die-hard fan of the TV series “Due South” starring Paul Gross. Most fans of the show are aware that Gross is also an accomplished musician, even providing some of the music which always played such an important role in every episode. It was, for instance, the first place I heard Sarah McLachlan‘s “Possession“, long before I heard it on the radio.
For the three of you who’ve never seen it, the series is about a Canadian Mountie, Benton Fraser, who first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.
The episode “Mountie on the Bounty” featured a tune (written by Gross and Jay Semko, peformed by Gross and frequent musical partner David Keeley) called “Robert MacKenzie.” A heavily Celtic influenced blues-rock ballad, it tells the fictitious story of the wreck of the “Robert MacKenzie“, a coal freighter lost in Lake Superior. (The real Robert MacKenzie was an iron barque built in Glasgow in 1860 and sunk off Jutland in 1903.)
First, the pipes; bagpipes, and rolling drums, fading. Abruptly, a chorus of sailors shouts “32 down on the Robert MacKenzie!” and we’re off. Pounding drums, crunching electric guitars and bass, then Paul’s voice begins the story. Every pause is punctuated by the bagpipes and a tin whistle which never really goes away. It’s hard not to sing along with the simple infectious chorus:
"Steel boats, iron men 32 down on the Robert MacKenzie"
Gross’s voice has an interesting bluesy sound which reminds me of my father’s singing; or perhaps, reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot’s earliest work. Unlike many blues rock tunes, the lyrics are clearly understandable as long as one has a map depicting places like Keweenaw Point and Bit Griese Bay. After a nicely handled false ending, replete with the clash of steel being crushed in the waves, we’re treated to a rousing finale worthy of such a momentous event.
It has been said that Gross originally wanted to use Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for the episode, but for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, decided not to go through the effort necessary to get permission and wrote “Robert MacKenzie” instead. Not bad for a last minute subsitute. Don’t tell Gord I like Paul’s tune better, although Lightfoot’s tune tells a true story rather than being a work of fiction.
On the “Due South” soundtrack volume II (there is also, not surprisingly, a volume I; both are filled with excellent music, unknown tracks by big names, others by people less famous) this track concludes with a bit of dialog not uncommon in this quirky series:
(It helps to picture Gross, tall and ramrod straight in his bright red Mountie uniform.)
Old woman’s voice: “So what’s your story? You work in a circus?”
Fraser: “Uh, no ma’am. Royal Candian Mounted Police. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, I’ve remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.”
Old woman: (in a very matter-of-fact, this-happens-every-day tone of voice): “Don’t take anything.”
Fraser: (in the same tone): “Understood.”
Gross recently wrote, directed, and starred in what is called ‘an outrageously Canadian romantic comedy’ called “Men With Brooms.” I won’t even bother to explain; I’ll just hope it’s released eventually somewhere closer than Toronto. It looks like a good time.